Rabbits in Switzerland: A Midwife’s Cautionary Tale

| June 14, 2019

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In the early 2000s Talia Ripley left behind her carefree twenties to train as an NHS midwife. Which left her somewhat unprepared for the effect of life-and-death responsibility, roving shift patterns and battle-hardened midwifery colleagues on her life with her boyfriend their two small children.

Ten years later together with Ethan Crane (the same boyfriend, fortunately) they wrote a (semi-)fictional satire of her early midwifery years. Mostly because it was cheaper than therapy. Rabbits in Switzerland is the result.

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When Luisa qualifies as an NHS midwife, she senses the beginning of life as a proper adult. ‘Oh, you’re a midwife,’ compliments absolutely everyone. But the kudos of the job forces her to hide the reality: a terror of life-and-death responsibility for childbirth, sanity-troubling fatigue, and the slow destruction of relationships with her boyfriend and young twins.

The undeniable reward of helping bring new life into the world leaves her unable to admit the downsides. The terror of responsibility means it is not just labouring women who evacuate their bowels before a birth. New mothers’ perfectionist demands and their ring-bound birth plans make night shifts all the harder. And over the course of one sleep-deprived week, the eccentricities of her demented colleagues and the creaking bureaucracy of the NHS drive Luisa to hysterical despair.

There is no one to whom Luisa can admit her nagging career doubts: not her over-dedicated colleagues, whose own sanity requires the elevation of midwifery to the status of religion. Not to her boyfriend Justin, brought low by the stress and lack of excitement in their life, and with whom an attempt at after-work seduction in a car park results instead in the vandalising of their own car. And if she meant her career to be a feminist role model for her twin girls, they are now more under the influence of Justin’s mother Bea, whose idea of childcare is induction into the pagan rituals of her mini-cult life-coaching circle.

Rabbits in Switzerland asks: if this is your dream job, what exactly is the dream? What is the value of a working life, when it tramples over your family, your social life and your sanity?

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